Monthly Archives: June 2016

Come for Windows and Stay for Surface

Microsoft’s Windows 10 event, scheduled for Wednesday, actually could focus more on hardware than on the operating system, given that the next Windows 10 refresh is expected in March.

A new Surface device — possibly an all-in-one computer with a 21-inch or larger screen — could be in the offing.

Whether Microsoft will unveil updates to its Surface Pro 4 and Surface Book devices or showcase products from its OEMs has generated some debate.

Windows Insiders have been testing new Windows 10 features, including trackpad innovations, noted The Verge. It might announce a F.lux-like feature to reduce blue light in Windows 10, as well as a new HomeHub smart device control feature. Further, Microsoft might bring its Holographic shell to Windows 10 PCs.

What Makes Sense

“It’ll be a hardware event,” predicted Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group.

“This is the expected refresh of the Surface product line,” he told TechNewsWorld, because “all that Surface stuff belongs to the Windows 10 group.”

Although some of the speculation may be groundless, “the all-in-one device makes a certain amount of sense because Microsoft hasn’t had a desktop Surface product yet,” Enderle pointed out.

“The smart money’s on the fact that they’ll probably have a Surface all-in-one, and the Surface Book and Surface Pro will probably be upgraded,” he said. “It’s about time.”

Improvements in battery life, higher-resolution screens, better touch technology, and “a better overall stylus experience” probably will be unveiled, Enderle suggested. “Everybody has improved their stylus resolution and screens have been getting better.”

However, don’t expect the Surface Book or Surface Pro to get any thinner, because “they’re already pretty thin and will run into thermal limits,” he noted.

The Surface all-in-one PC “is what’s most likely to be announced,” R “Ray” Wang, principal analyst at Constellation Research, also said.

Expect deeper integration with Cortana services, Microsoft’s Power BI and more, he told TechNewsWorld..

Moving into AR, VR and Games

Microsoft also might push virtual or augmented reality, Wang suggested. “Look for the battle for VR and AR to continue. With the rumors of the iPhone 8 integrating VR and AR, this is a chance to pre-empt Apple.”

Microsoft might make “some type of announcement to counter Nintendo’s Switch with their devices,” he noted, “but we’re not sure if this will happen.”

The Nintendo Switch is a new home gaming system unveiled last week. It can be used in single player and multiplayer modes, and it lets gamers play the same title wherever, whenever and with whomever they choose.

Marketing Works

Redstone 2, the Windows 10 update scheduled for March, will have several new features, according to Wang, including an Office hub, better Bluetooth GATT support, onDemand sync with Microsoft OneDrive, interoperability among devices, and gaming services to the devices.

Windows 10 had a 22 percent share of the global operating systems market in September, according to Netmarketshare. Windows 7 continued to dominate with 48 percent.

Microsoft reported that revenue from Surface products grew 9 percent year over year in constant currency in fiscal Q4 2016, driven by sales of the Surface Pro 4 and Surface Book.

Sales totaled US$965 million, but Microsoft didn’t state how many units were sold.

Flaw Opens Door to New Dirty Cow Exploit

A Linux security vulnerability first discovered more than a decade ago once again poses a threat, Red Hat warned last week, as an exploit that could allow attackers to gain enhanced privileges on affected computers has turned up in the wild.

Users need to take steps to patch their systems to prevent the exploit, known as “Dirty Cow,” from granting access to unprivileged attackers.

“This flaw has actually been in the kernel for a better part of a decade — what’s changed isn’t the vulnerability itself, but rather the manner in which it’s being exploited,” said Josh Bressers, a security strategist at Red Hat.

“As attack methods have become more sophisticated, hardware has become faster, and the kernel [has become] more predictable, a bug that was once thought to be impossible to exploit is now possible to exploit,” he told LinuxInsider.

Out of the Shadows

Linux security researcher Phil Oester rediscovered the flaw while examining a server that appeared to have been under attack, he told V3.

A “race condition” was found in the way the Linux kernel’s memory subsystem handled copy-on-write breakage of private read-only memory mappings, Red Hat explained in last week’s security update.

Unprivileged local users could use the flaw to access otherwise read-only memory mappings and increase their privileges on the system, the update states. The issue affects Linux kernel packages as shipped with Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5,6,7 and MRG 2.x.

Shipping versions of Fedora are also affected, and Fedora is aware of the flaw, the warning notes.

Red Hat advised users running affected versions of the kernel to update as soon as patches become available, adding that a system reboot will be required to make sure the kernel update is applied.

A patch for customers running Red Hat Enterprise Linux 7.2 or greater will be available, according to the company. For several other versions of Red Hat Enterprise Linux, an active Extended Update Support subscription will be required to access the patch.

Users who don’t have an active EUS subscription will have to contact Red Hat sales representatives, the company said. For those using Red Hat Enterprise Linux 6.2, 6.4 and 6.5, an active Advanced Update Support subscription will be required for access to the patch.

Possible Consequences

“The major risks are that an attacker exploiting this — and there has been an identified attack in the wild via HTTP — would be able to replace known binaries, including the replacement of core system applications, compilers and various publicly exposed systems — SSH daemons, Web servers, and so on,” said Kevin O’Brien, CEO ofGreatHorn.

“From a risk perspective, the age, ease of exploit, and reliability of this particular vulnerability is particularly concerning,” he told LinuxInsider.

Seeing a CVE of this magnitude, when combined with an in-the-wild implementation, makes this a critical issue for any systems administrator, O’Brien said.

That said, since the code must be executed on a local system and not a network, it’s a two-step process for the attacker, noted Red Hat’s Bressers.

Elements of Innovation

One of the things that has made Dell World very different is that at the end, one or more controversial speakers take the stage and provide an incredible amount of insight for the folks who haven’t left early.

All three of the last three speakers were fascinating, but it wasn’t until I wove all three speeches together that it became clear to me why innovation seems to evaporate the larger a company becomes. I was drawn in particular to why Netscape failed and Google, outside of ad revenue, largely has been unsuccessful, once you factor in economics.

I’ll walk you through this and then close with my product of the week: a new set of headphones from Plantronics, which have become my favorite travel headphones.

The 4 Elements of Innovation

The first speaker used, of all things, the creation of chemotherapy as his quintessential example of innovation. He told the story of how leukemia was a death sentence for children coming into the 1960s with not only a 100 percent fatality rate, but also a horrid end for each child. It was so bad that some doctors refused to see the children, he said, and nurses visiting their wards were covered with sprayed blood. It must have been incredibly difficult to see small children suffering in incredible pain, and the images no doubt deeply disturbed the hospital staff.

Apparently there were four drugs that had some success, but they were all poisons. Each had a different function, each had terrible side effects, and each was potentially deadly. All of them individually only prolonged what was a horrid experience, so many doctors refused to use any of them.

One doctor, and you can read more details here,felt that all four might work where no one had worked before. Keep in mind the patients were children, each of the drugs individually was a deadly poison, and that doctor wanted to use all four. Oh, and since there was no animal counterpart to leukemia in children, the testing would have to be on live patients.

He got very little help and was constantly threatened with termination, but he was 98 percent successful, and his work became the foundation for modern day chemotherapy.

The speaker used this example to illustrate his contention that four elements are necessary for innovation to take hold: creativity, the ability to see an alternative; conscientiousness, the ability and drive to work to completion; contentiousness, the ability to fight against a common practice; and a sense of urgency, so the task will be completed in a timely way. (I agree with three of these.)

Interestingly, he also used Steve Jobs as an example, but those of us who knew Steve knew he was neither creative (the ideas always came from someone else) nor really conscientious (he got others to do most of the work). Just ask Steve Wozniak.

Jobs was a visionary, however, and he could see the value in someone else’s idea that others often could not. Also, he sure as hell was disagreeable and contentious. The Steve Jobs example suggests that all of the elements necessary for innovation don’t have to reside in the same person. It should be possible to create innovative teams that would have all of those traits and end up with something amazing.

But…

Not in a Large Company

The issue is that folks who are contentious and disagreeable, who are free thinkers, don’t survive in large firms. They become the nail that the rest of the firm pounds on until they either conform, die or quit. It is actually kind of hard to find visionaries who aren’t CEOs for the same reason.

Largely, they are forced to fit inside the visions of someone else, and I think that is why most large firms have to acquire much of their innovative technology after a while. It is why Xerox PARC could create the graphical user interface and mouse, but it took Steve Jobs and Apple to bring them to market.

I recall that the first iPhone-like phone I saw was created at Palm, and that group quickly was disbanded after being shot down by Palm’s then-CEO for having a stupid idea. It didn’t conform. Even at Apple, the iPhone required Steve seeing the threat of a music-playing phone to convince him to pioneer and then husband the product to market.

Microsoft also had a group that created an iPhone before Apple and even created a better tablet than the iPad, called the “Courier,” and both were killed before ever making it to market. It wasn’t that those firms didn’t have people who could innovate — they just treated them like problems, and instead of blessing and driving the related innovations, they forced them out of the company.

Google’s Approach

As the Dell World speakers continued, one of the other things that became clear was that the reason Google largely has been a copycat is that it lost track of its identity. The second speaker, talking about coming innovations, showcased a list of cutting-edge firms — all of which were created by directing people toward something the firm didn’t own and monetizing it.

Facebook didn’t own the content, Uber didn’t own the cars, and Airbnb doesn’t own the properties. However, Google was the king of monetizing what it didn’t own, and that was its entire model for achieving success.

The implication was that had Google realized what it was best at — monetizing access — then it would have created its own Facebook, Uber and Airbnb. Instead, it tried to copy Apple, Microsoft and eventually Facebook, but none of those endeavors has been particularly successful financially, and some have cut into their revenue and added to costs. For example, both Apple and Microsoft could have been partners instead of rivals.

I recall one of IBM cofounder Thomas Watson Jr.’s saying: “Be willing to change everything but who you are.” I think Google’s — now Alphabet’s — problem is that it no longer knows what it is.

Wrapping Up

Overall, the Dell World talks left me with two lessons.

One, that if you want innovation you have to identify those who are likely to innovate, and then back and protect them. Truly consider the concept of Skunk Works, (which has resulted in some of the most innovative products ever created) and the new policies at Ford, which expressly protect free thinkers.

Two, that if you don’t know what your core skill is, then you are likely to fail a lot. I could go down a list of companies, starting with Netscape and ending with Yahoo, that just forgot who they were and either failed or are in the process of failing as a result.

This suggests two other things: If you are a creative free thinker, then you don’t want to work for a big company that won’t protect you; and one of the first things you should ask when considering a new job is whether the firm knows what its core skill is — in other words knows more about what it is than its name suggests.